What if: the EU had presidential elections like the USA?

electoral-college-eu2

Context: For those unfamiliar with the EP Groups, here is a quick rundown:
EPP – Center-Right, Pro-EU
SD – Center-Left, Pro-EU
ALDE – Liberal (in the European sense), Pro-EU
Greens-EFA – Greens and Regionalists
ECR – Conservatives, Soft Eurosceptic
GUE-NGL – Left to Far-Left, Soft Eurosceptic
EFD² (or EFDD) – Populist Right, Hard Eurosceptic
ENF – Far-Right, Hard Eurosceptic
NI – Others (outside groups)

The EU/USA analogy

There are two phenomena which converged towards the writing of this blogpost. First of, the recent US elections have put into question, yet again, the voting system used in electing the US president, where wining a majority of the votes can still leave one defeated.

Second, the recent Brexit referendum has stimulated discussions about patching up the real or perceived democratic deficits of the European Union, and one popular solution to this problem is the call for a directly elected European President. Given that the United States of America is often used as inspiration for Federalist proposals, I ran with this thought experiment.

What are Electoral Colleges

The US presidential elections are won by the candidate who wins the most “electors” on a winner-take-all-state system. That is to say, if candidate A wins the most votes in Texas, let’s say 56%, candidate A gets 100% of Texas’s 38 electors, not just 56%. The only two states that do not use “winner-take-all” are Maine and Nebraska (we’ll come back to these). There are 538 electors in total, 3 for DC and a number equal to the sum of its representatives (who vary according to population) and its senators (2 per state) for all the actual states.

Finding Electoral Colleges for the EU

The first problem with translating this system into the EU is finding the number of electors per each state. The “representatives” the EU system would be the MEPs (the ‘Members of the European Parliament’), but finding the number of “senators” is a bit trickier. The EU’s de facto Upper House of the Legislative is the Council of Ministers, which doesn’t have a fixed make-up. While it’s made up of a minister from each EU country, the minister in question varies depending on the subject of the legislation that needs to be voted on (i.e. if it’s legislation concerning internal affairs, the Council of Ministers is made up of each EU state’s “Minister of Interior/Home Secretary” – or equivalent). So a simple solution would be to add 1 elector to the number of MEPs.

QMV – a possible solution

One possibile alternative might be to take into account the Qualified Majority Voting (‘QMV ‘ for short) system of the Council of Ministers, and extract our “upper house electors” from there. Since the Lisbon Treaty, a passing vote requires a “majority of countries” (55% or 72% of them) representing a “majority of the population” (at least 65%) so there are no numbers to work with to get electors. Fortunately, up until 31 March 2017, countries can request a vote under the Nice Treaty’s system of QMV where each state had a fixed number of “voting weights”. So for example, the big 4 have 29 “weights” each, Spain and Poland 27, Romania 14, the Netherlands 13, and so on, all the way down to Malta’s 3, to a grand total of 345 “voting weights”.

So a possible solution for finding each state’s number of “electors” is to add up its number of MEPs with its number of “voting weights” from the Council of Ministers.

The easy way out

While the two examples above could make things interesting, truth is that just using the number of MEPs gives us about the same proportion of votes. See table further down.

The Belgian exception

Remember how Maine and Nebraska use a “per congregational district” system instead of a “per state system”? Given that Belgium is very polarized between its 2 main linguistic communities, I decided to apply a similar “per voting circumscription” system, and devolve the winner-take-all part to the 3 linguistic-communities/voting district.

I thought about doing the same for the French Overseas Territories voting circumscription, but given Frence’s centralist nature, I went with an “all in” approach.

Who won which state?

Now we get to the second part of the problem: applying our system to the 2014 European elections.

When people vote First-Past-The-Post versus Proportional Representation, voting patterns change, but since the European Elections are the only pan-European elections we have, I ran with the numbers of the 2014 EP elections. I took the the winner to be the europarty/coalition (basically EP Group) that got the most MEPs. When 2 or more groups had the same number of MEPs (as in the case of Cyprus), I took votes cast. Here is the result (as mentioned above, I used the numberof MEPs without any additions):

EUROPARTY MEPs+Nice QMV MEPs+1 MEPs
no. % no. % no. %
EPP 506 45.9 356 45.7 342 45.5
SD 228 20.7 165 21.2 160 21.3
ALDE 111 10.1 73 9.4 68 9.1
GUE-NGL 33 3.0 22 2.8 21 2.8
ECR 20 1.8 14 1.8 13 1.7
EFD² 102 9.2 74 9.5 73 9.7
ENF 103 9.3 75 9.6 74 9.9

Made in Inkscape. Inspired by the Fivethirtyeight’s Electoral College cartogram

A functional view of the European Union

One of the big problems of the EU seems to be that it’s difficult to understand how it works and who does what. The prevailing image is one of “Councils” and “Commissions”, each headed by a President of some sort. It doesn’t help that on top of that you have non-EU institutions that sound like they are part of the EU (the Council of Europe – a non-EU entity – versus the European Council and the Council of the European Union – both EU entities). Often infographics that try to explain the EU do little to help.

As such, the infographic below tries to approach the institutional framework of the EU a bit differently, by portraying institutions through theirs national analogies, and using a more varied vocabulary to explain the function of each “president” (for example, the “President of the European Parliament” can be thought of as the “Speaker of Parliament”). In essence, what each institution does is more important than what it’s called, and even if the analogies are imperfect (since, for example, the Commission has legislative attributes as well), they help better differentiate the institutions.

eu-infographic-v

Made in Inkscape.